Thursday, May 28, 2015

A New Sport

Baseball season has begun. And it's a new sport to us!

B10 is really the only natural athlete in our family. All our kids have played soccer at some point and were pretty competitive, but B10 seems to be good at whatever he tries. And last summer he tried baseball, informally, at a picnic with a group of dads, who all urged me to get him into baseball.

So this year, we signed up. He couldn't make the tryouts for Little League because he was busy being a Monkey in Jungle Book, but the Boys and Girls Club has a league, and it's less competitive. Which is a good thing, since he has so little knowledge of the game.

A couple practices were rained out and we had a conflict for another one, so he only made one practice before the first game of the season. Our normally supremely confident son admitted he didn't know what he was doing yet and didn't feel ready for a game, but the coach assured me that he had a broad range of abilities on the team and B10 would be fine.

His inept parents could not find the field where the first game was played, so he arrived last--and they had run out of hats and jerseys. Mom didn't find out that pants weren't included with the uniform until a few hours before the game, but B10 assured her that sweatpants would be fine. So here he is at his first game--in sweatpants and somebody's jersey from last year (over the green t-shirt he arrived in).



I have to laugh. He's just so obviously not our firstborn.

Since we were late to the game, he only got up to bat one time. First he swung at one that hit the dirt. Then he watched another one do the same. And on the third pitch, he hit a line drive to the first baseman and was thrown out--but got an RBI when his teammate on third crossed the plate!




He didn't see much action out in right field, but he looked alert the whole time and snapped up a couple grounders that got through the infield.

I'm guessing baseball is not going to be his favorite sport, because there is so much sitting and standing around--but he'll be glad to know how to play it.


Now I need to go searching for those white baseball pants that somebody handed down to us! I just know they're in a Rubbermaid bin somewhere....

Friday, May 22, 2015

All About Jungle Book

So the show we weren't even planning on doing--ended up being our favorite this year!

In fact, so few people were signed up to audition for Jungle Book that there was a lot of talk about it being canceled. A lot of kids simply weren't excited about the show. It was not the Disney version but an unimpressive homegrown effort which some of us had seen performed a few years ago. Even though we were told that the script and songs had been strengthened, it was hard to imagine that it could be improved THAT much. So a lot of regulars were simply planning a break. 

Then they announced the directing team--a group of really strong, positive, talented, encouraging and well-liked individuals--and that got everybody re-thinking. And then all these new families signed up, and what a shame it would be if the show they were signing up for was CANCELED! The re-thinking continued...and on audition day, we had enough kids signed up--although it would be a very small, very young cast.

So we weren't surprised to see Bantam16's name at the top of the cast list--he would be playing Older Mowgli, in the second act. Then Younger Mowgli's name was listed...and then Bagheera, the black panther had next-nearest-the-top billing. To our shock and delight, Chicklet12's name was listed there! What?! Further down, we found Bantam10's name with the other Monkeys--an energetic group for sure. No surprise there!

But Bagheera? Chicket? A 12-year-old? Could she pull it off? Could she convey the authority, the gravitas, the parental concern for Mowgli, the prophetic vision for his life? Especially with the obstacle of Baloo the Bear, played by an older teenage boy, always trying to get Bagheera to lighten up? 

And could she memorize all those lines?? This role was intense!

[Warning: Super-proud mommy moments ahead] 

But she did it! She totally pulled it off. She seemed years older on stage. She bossed Baloo around and earnestly exhorted the Younger Mowgli. She and the Older Mowgli had a showdown of wills in Act Two, and she and her brother argued vehemently, passionately and most convincingly. By the final performance, you could hear a new maturity in her voice. You could observe great confidence in her movements, which had an elegance and a nobility that suited a black panther. She gave a performance which was excellent in itself, but especially so because most people would never have guessed she was only 12! She was amazing.

Click to zoom in for a good look at her metallic false lashes! Photo credit:  Dave Fricke
B16 was equally as solid. Not only was he totally a good sport about wearing nothing but a red velvet diaper and a spray tan onstage, but he worked hard to identify with his character, and his analysis was even quoted in the newspaper:  "A fun thing about playing him is that he is trying to fit in somewhere: he doesn't know if he belongs in the jungle or the village. It relates to teenagers' lives as they try to fit into cliques. I get into [the singing] and I feel the emotions." And he made the audience feel the emotions too. His duet with Anjali, the village girl, was possibly the most beautiful moment of the show. Our Anjali completely lost her voice for one of our performances, so the directors asked B16 to change the pronouns and sing her verse as well as his own, and they recognized him with a Best Actor award at our strike party for his directability--the way he was able to take all their notes and implement them, even when all 4 of them threw something like that at him an hour before show time!

Photo by Papa Rooster
B10 also did us proud! I knew something was up when he came home after a couple rehearsals and announced that this was probably going to be his new favorite show. He had never changed his favorite show before--it has always been the first one he did (Aladdin)--and the reason he gave was that he LOVED his part! Then I heard from his brother and sister that he was really, really good at being a Monkey. Huh, I thought.

At the first dress rehearsal, I understood. B10, you may know, has SO. MUCH. ENERGY. And this role was perfect for him. He was over-the-top in every move he made. If the Monkeys had a step in their dance, B10 turned it in to a leap. If they spun around, he jumped high in the air as he spun. (I asked the choreographer if she cared if he was the spastic monkey of the group and she said she loved it!) These Monkey were screamers (kind of a high hooting scream that really did sound monkey-like), and he loved screaming most often and most loudly. He was constantly in movement onstage, pushing and getting pushed around, often rolling underfoot of others onstage, surprisingly never getting hurt or tripping someone. He did something new every time, always in character. He was just so much fun to watch! (And he told everyone that he had enjoyed it because "I just got to be myself!")

Photo by Papa Rooster
But there was something about this show. It just seemed God's hand was on it! Here's what I wrote on our theater group's Facebook page, on the morning of our final performance:

Now glory be to God, who by his mighty power at work within us is able to do far more than we would ever dare to ask or even dream of—infinitely beyond our highest prayers, desires, thoughts, or hopes. (Ephesians 3:20)

Is anybody else just basking in the GENEROSITY of God today? I think a lot of us had low expectations for this show--we barely had enough people to pull it off! Remember it almost got canceled?? Then God sent us all these new families, and a great directing team, and who knew what the final product would look like, but hey, at least our kids were having fun, right?

I got to watch the show last night, and I was blown away by how good it was! I saw so many courageous choices by very young, very new actors, and by those who've never had lines or a lead before. I saw expressive and committed dancing and singing. I saw a really good story unfold, beautifully and believably. I give our directing team so much credit, but ultimately they can't take it beyond what each member of the cast is willing to put out there, and that's what took the show a step beyond what I could have imagined! Each cast member was focused and committed to every word, every step, every gesture. There was an intensity to the performance that I didn't expect with such a young and relatively inexperienced cast!*

[*Found out later that over half our cast members had never been in a Spotlight show before or had only been in one; 25% of our cast were 8- and 9-year-olds. Over half of the leads had never had a leading role before.)

I have to believe that it was God's mighty power at work within each of our kids that enabled them to push beyond their comfort zone with such courage. I believe God's power was at work to pull in all the new parents and make them part of things so readily! Thinking back to the prayers we prayed on Friday nights during rehearsals, God has answered so many of them--so generously. Why do we so often think of God as withholding? He loves to answer our prayers above and beyond what we can think to ask! Thank you, Lord!

I do wonder about the effect of our Friday night prayer times, which I felt strongly led by God to start this session. If our family isn't back in Kenosha in the fall (since I might end up on a directing team in another area), I hope and believe it will continue! There was just something special about this show, something beyond human relationships. God was at work, and I'm so excited to see what He will continue to do in Spotlight Kenosha!


Mowgli and Anjali play jumprope with the monkeys! (Photo credit:  Papa )

Indignant and upset with his sister Bagheera (Photo credit:  Papa R)
Solo time
(Photo credit:  Papa R)

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Cruisin' with Chicklet12!

Chicklet and I had such a special time together on our cruise!!

Here we are at O'Hare Airport at 6 a.m. on Monday morning. It was her first flight!


Just a few hours later....


....we were in Miami, aboard the Norwegian Sky! Perfect for a girl who's 25% Norwegian.


Each morning, we woke up to find ourselves at a new port. The first morning it was Freeport on Grand Bahamas Island, and I believe this photo was taken in Nassau, on our second morning. 

In Freeport, we elected not to go to the beach, since it wasn't walking distance. Instead, we walked around the little shopping area near the dock. We spent $5 each; Chicklet bought a carved wooden dolphin, and I bought a straw fan. The seller stitched our names on the fan while we chatted with her and the other lady at the booth--the embroidery was included in the price! We also stopped to watch a woodcarver with an "I LOVE JESUS" t-shirt on, and we ended up talking to him for quite awhile too. He wasn't Anglican, but he reminded me of Anita, the cab driver that Papa R and I met on our cruise on Grand Turk Island--proud of his church, and his faith was obviously a big part of his life.


On the second day, at Nassau, we walked to a free beach and Chicklet made a friend there--a woman who was snorkeling in the shallow area. She gave Chicklet a snorkel that her husband wasn't using. Besides lots of little fish to see, we found hermit crabs to play with on that beach too! 

On the third day, we went to a private island owned by the cruise line, called Grand Stirrup Cay. The snorkeling was even better there, so I rented a life-vest for Chicklet so she could go out farther safely. I would have loved to go with her, but there weren't any lockers for our stuff, including our ID's and my phone/camera. Plus snorkeling doesn't work for me because I can't get a good seal around my glasses, and if I remove my glasses, I can't see!

But there were lifeguards, and she had the life-vest, so I let her go, out of my sight, while I read Josephine Tey mysteries and soaked up the warmth of the sun. I felt a peace from the Lord that she would be fine--and she had a lovely time.

"Mom, I saw a Dory fish! Did you know all of the Finding Nemo fish are real? I think I've seen all of them now, except for the sea turtle."

I kept urging her to join me on a lounge chair for a few minutes, but she said, "I can do that this summer. I won't be able to do this back in Wisconsin!" She snorkled for four hours that day, and two hours the day before, and never once said, "I'm bored," or "I wish I had a friend here." She was so content on the whole trip!

In the late afternoons, back on the ship, we swam in the ships's pool, sat in the hot tub, helped ourselves to soft-serve ice cream cones, and read books on our lounge chairs, enjoying the breeze. We ate our breakfasts and our first couple meals alone, but at dinner each night we went to the nice dining room and shared a table with others. At first Chicklet was hesitant about it, but she quickly discovered how interesting it was to meet people from all over the world. We met Canadians, a truck driver from NYC who had grown up in Guyana, a fun couple from Cincinnati, a talkative and lonely widower from Sevier, TN, and two twenty-something girls who had been homeschooled through high school. One had received training as a midwife in India, through Youth With a Mission, and was getting certified in the US. The other had graduated from high school with her associate's degree and had been on a number of missions trips since graduation, including a couple years in Australia. She was planning to return to college once she narrowed down what she really wanted to do--she had so many options!

We also went to the shows each night and really enjoyed the dancers, especially, since Chicklet12 has been taking a lot of dance. We discovered that there was an all-night buffet open at the outdoor eating area, so we had to visit there every night after the show, for an extra treat or two. We read in bed until about midnight each night. I stayed up a little later than C, and woke up a little earlier, without an alarm, which was lovely. In the darkness of our windowless inside cabin, we both slept super-well, but not too late!

At the public beach at Nassau
I was so grateful to God for this trip, especially that it was relaxing and uneventful. I was quite nervous about it ahead of time, with fears that we would miss our flight, or it would be cancelled, and we'd miss the boat, or Chicklet's birth certificate wouldn't be adequate ID, or we'd lose our baggage, or have our ID's stolen, or SOMETHING would happen. Then at 10:30 p.m. on Sunday night, just 5 hours before we were going to leave for the airport, B10 threw up. Chicklet had been playing with him for hours that evening before bedtime, and so a new worry was added: We'd spend the whole cruise in our stateroom, puking.

But thanks be to God, NOTHING HAPPENED!

My husband and 3 of my boys were sick for days...but Chicklet and I escaped somehow. (We both drank Airborne as soon as B10 threw up. Maybe that helped? And Papa R wouldn't let me into the bedroom, cleaning up the mess himself.)

The relief of an uneventful time was almost as carthatic as the relaxing time away!

It was just really fun and relaxing, and such a sweet time with Chicklet12. I am so, so thankful!!


Saturday, April 04, 2015

Holy Week, Spring Break--and a Vacation!

I keep wistfully waiting for the time when I can return to blogging more regularly!

It seems there is always some urgent big time-consuming thing. Always a good thing! For example, there was the clergy and spouse retreat, which took three days right when I needed to start thinking about Easter Vigil readings. And there was the opportunity to teach a Shakespeare class for teen theater students, which I am enjoying immensely, but required a good amount of start-up energy the week before that.

So the big urgent thing for the last couple weeks has been scrambling to pull together readers for Easter Vigil, their schedules, creative ideas for dramatic accompaniment and the folks to make that happen: a dancer, a djembe player, bell-ringers, percussion players (and instruments), musicians, music, and children to act out one of the readings. Did I mention scheduling??

This week--rehearsals for those readings! And Holy Week! We have services for Maundy Thursday, Stations of the Cross on Friday afternoon, Good Friday, Easter Vigil on Saturday and Easter Sunday. There are music rehearsals going on as well as my reading rehearsals, so our house--so close to the church now!--will be Holy Week Central. People will be providing meals and snacks for musicians and tech people at my house before each service and during the day on Friday and Saturday. One of my friends is going to hang out at my house to help set up, serve and clean up. It's going to be hectic but exciting!

(Note to self--figure out today or tomorrow what the younger kids and I are wearing for each service and do laundry or shop as needed--and buy ham! Our friends who have hosted us for Easter dinner for the last several years are going to join us this year, since the wife is recovering from surgery. My sister-in-law and I will cook together on Saturday morning, and our friends will bring sides and a dessert.)

After Holy Week, we have spring break, so it will be a recovery week...but also a week of preparation for Chicklet and me--because on the following Monday, when the boys go back to school, we are going on a cruise!

Ever since Papa R and I went on one for our 25th anniversary, I've been wanting to do another one. He hasn't been as eager, not because he didn't enjoy it, but because he's traveled so much in his working life that the thought of getting on another airplane sends him trembling into a fetal position. So he suggested I take Chicklet12. She's the perfect age and temperament--young enough to still be happy hanging out with Mom, and old enough to be companionable. Plus she's homeschooled, so it's easy for her to get away.

We are saying it's in honor of my 50th and her 13th birthdays, since it's about halfway between the two events. :)

We got a super deal through Vacations to Go (4 nights for $250 each), and airfare to Miami was only $150 each, round-trip! It was too good to pass up. Plus I am way overdue to keep a promise extracted from me by friends who love and care about me, that I would take a vacation after our extremely stressful summer last year.

So there ya go. We are going to the Bahamas in about 10 days.

And I got so busy with rehearsals and services that several days have passed since I wrote this! Easter Vigil is tonight!!!

A blessed Easter everyone!!

Monday, March 16, 2015

God At Work

Last week was an exciting week in my ministry life!

From Tuesday night to Thursday noon, Father Rooster and I attended a retreat for clergy and spouses of our Midwest Anglican diocese--an annual event, but this was only our second year. And it was just as inspiring and refreshing as last year! It was wonderful to renew old friendships and former ministry partnerships, and forge new ones, especially among the growing Wisconsin contingent.

Early in the retreat, we went around the room, introducing ourselves and sharing one thing that gave us joy in our ministries. Many of the joys shared were on the other end of suffering, which was a powerful testimony to God's faithfulness. It was so encouraging to hear all that God is doing in many different Anglican settings--on college campuses, in nursing homes, in Latino congregations, among refugees and immigrants, and even at a preschool.

We had five Anglican ministers from Kenya with us too. Because our bishop and a few other delegates had visited them, and they had found it so encouraging, they sent a group to visit us, as missionaries to America! It was such a joy to receive ministry from the Provost of the Anglican cathedral in Nairobi and his wife, their children's pastor, their youth pastor and their pastor of missions and outreach. At the cathedral, they have 6,000 on a Sunday morning (3 services) and over 1200 children, 12 and under. We discovered, mutually, that we have many of the same types of ministry situations, and some that are culturally unique. But there is a ministry of refreshment that outsiders bring, who are in tune with the same vision; they experienced it when Americans came to them, and they brought it, when they came to us! That ministry included a number of prophetic words, that were so clearly from the Lord. Such encouragement!

Our Bishop spoke powerfully on our diocese's vision of "a revival of Word and sacrament, by the power of the Holy Spirit," and his wife taught on faith. She encouraged us to have a bigger vision--to ask for what we need and want to happen in ministry, but also to have our eyes on God's even bigger, grander vision which may take more time for alignment of all the moving parts. 

We also met in small groups and prayed for one another. Both Father R and I received strong confirmations of things God is calling us to personally and at Light of Christ.

Without expecting it, I received an answer to a long-standing question I have often put before the Lord:  How does my work with children's theater fit in with my calling as a pastor's wife? For years, I have felt vaguely guilty (and perhaps a little judged) that the time I spend in theater is time I ought to be giving to my church. Yet I have always felt God nudging me that direction, and (to quote Eric Liddell in Chariots of Fire) I feel his pleasure when I am at the theater.

At the retreat, there was a moment when God opened my eyes, and I saw clearly that theater is my outreach ministry! It was like Clarence showing George what it would have been like in Bedford Falls if he hadn't existed. God reminded me of all the people I wouldn't even know if I hadn't started and remained involved in the Kenosha chapter of Spotlight Youth Theater. There is one child I know of who wouldn't be saved! In 18 months, I will no longer have an elementary school-aged child at home, but I had sixteen 8-12 year-olds in my Drama 1 class last session. Through those children, I meet parents and siblings as well. At rehearsals this session, I am starting a weekly prayer time for parents who want to come and pray for their kids, the directors, Spotlight, and all the brand-new families who have joined us. One of these I met through a community theater production we were in together. They are not church attenders; Spotlight is as close as they may ever get! There is a family at our church now, who arrived via Spotlight, and through Spotlight, I have connections with many other churches in town, including men and women in staff positions. I also have adult friends who are great spiritual encouragers to me. 

So I feel a new freedom to embrace theater as a place God uses me, which is totally in synch with his vision for Light of Christ! 

Finally, yesterday at our Sunday morning service we had such an amazing time of blessing and encouraging ministry, called "Signal Fires Sunday" (an image from Lord of the Rings). Even though we are small, our vision is to start new congregations, and we have one at Carthage College which just started up in September. It was such a joy to have them all at our service yesterday. Two students shared about what the Lord was doing among them, and how they were reaching out to a community of veterans, who relished their friendship and their prayer ministry. We also have a deacon (who will be ordained to the priesthood this coming Saturday) who shared his vision for a congregation to be raised up in Racine. These outposts of Light of Christ are so exciting!

The sermon was given by one of our Kenyan brothers, and during the ministry time for all the congregations, he laid hands on Father Rooster and I and prayed for our joint ministry. It was so strengthening and encouraging...and just a bit daunting. It was a big vision he laid out for us, but so much in line with what God is already bringing and strengthening us to do.

Praise be to God for allowing us to participate in His work!







Monday, March 02, 2015

Percolating

I should be writing a birthday post for the February birthdays, or recapping Beauty and the Beast, the show we just finished up, or posting pictures of my house (I know, I know, some of you have been waiting!!!), plus I have videos I want to put up...--but I have too many other things I want to capture!

There are so many exciting things percolating in my life right now.

(I love that verb, but I realize it may not mean much to some who aren't familiar with a percolator. My mom still uses hers to make coffee for a crowd. I don't know much about it how it works, except that when it gets hot, it boils and bubbles and "perks" as the bubbles break against the little glass window on top. You have to let it perk for awhile while you wait for the coffee to brew. That's how I envision things happening in my life sometimes--bubbling up, heating up, requiring a little more time before they're fully brewed and ready to serve. :)

The newest thing is that I just was asked to teach a 10-week class on Shakespeare for the youth theater program we participate in! It will be Shakespeare education and appreciation as much as it is performance, and I have more ideas than thou couldst waggle a cudgel at! I'm so psyched. It's not in Kenosha; it's in Lake County, one of our sister areas. I'm excited to meet my new students!

In other teaching news, I proposed wrapping up the grammar and writing classes I've been teaching for our classical co-op. We were supposed to go seven more weeks, but we will end in just two more weeks. This feels so freeing to me! As much as Chicklet and I enjoy this group, it hasn't felt like the right fit for us for awhile now. Between the time we spend there, my prep time, and the time we spend on writing homework for MY CLASS, it takes up 2+ days out of our week. I have plans for those two days we'll be getting back!

I think the other moms are happy to get some extra time in their weeks this spring too. One said that the local middle school told her that their 8th graders will have written two 5-paragraph essays in language arts this year. Since my 4th-6th graders have been writing one every week or so, for a couple months now...I feel we are safe to wrap up writing class and spend our spring concentrating on other subjects we haven't been hitting as hard!

At church, I am excited about our healing services on Wednesday nights during Lent. I will be speaking at one of them. We are full of expectation that God is going to work powerfully through these times set aside to listen for his words of life and healing.  And Holy Week will be here before we know it, so as soon as my Shakespeare lesson plans are set, I have to channel my creativity into readers and readings for Easter Vigil.

We are also resurrecting our youth group this spring. It's a small group, mostly boys, but we're going to get them together once a month at our house for worship and prayer with their Sunday School teacher, a wonderful man they all love--and see what happens! We're asking them to lead the group in a simplified evening prayer service, with a couple songs accompanied by those who play guitar and piano. We'll start with a meal--the key to the teenage male heart, right?--and they will also warm up with improv, led by themselves (including B16, who's on a competitive improv team again this spring). We met once already. It was an extra small group, but they all participated and had fun, yet took it seriously too.

B10, B16 and Chicklet have auditions coming up on Friday, for a show that might get cancelled for low turnout. If it does, they want to audition on the same night for a show in Lake County. So that's more exciting and suspenseful than usual! On Saturday, which will be callbacks, B16 has two solos and is singing in three ensembles at Solo and Ensemble competition in Kenosha. So that will be interesting to work out if he's called back. His voice has really been developing nicely this year, and his very experienced voice teacher has been most encouraging.

I'm excited about some house projects I have finally managed to make time for...but perhaps I should put those in a post of their own.

And most exciting of all--Chicklet12 and I have vacation plans for after Easter! But I'm going to save those too. I have Shakespeare scenes to select for tomorrow night, and seven weeks of grammar to condense into two weeks. So I'm going to go give some thought to that before the day gets completely away from me...!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Lent 2015

You know how sometimes you know God is speaking to you because you keep getting the same message, loud and clear? You know, first you read something that really strikes you. Then you hear the same idea in a sermon. Then you run across Scripture that seems to be saying the same thing?

So for Lent this year, I've been convicted that what I'm supposed to do is rest. I don't necessarily mean getting more physical rest or clearing my schedule...but I'm supposed to rest in the Lord.

My activistic personality has often viewed Lent as a time for cultivating discipline and good habits. Ash Wednesday can feel suspiciously like New Year's Day--a day for making resolutions of self-improvement in my spiritual life. And I won't say I haven't benefitted, some years, from embracing a new discipline.

But this year, God is giving me things to do that aren't do-ing. This morning's psalm, Psalm 37, really spoke to me with action verbs that are all about resting:

Fret not yourself...
Trust in the Lord...
dwell...
befriend faithfulness...
Delight yourself in the Lord...
Commit your way to the Lord...
trust in him...
Be still before the Lord...
wait patiently for him...
fret not yourself...
Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath!
Fret not yourself

It's interesting that "Fret not yourself" is repeated three times in this passage! But it's not just a "stop worrying" message; we are told what to do instead. Trust, dwell, delight, commit, be still, wait patiently, "befriend faithfulness." Such an interesting phrase!! It speaks to me of this steadfast rest in the Lord that I'm feeling called to.

So this year, it's not going to be a "try-harder" Lent. Oh, I am giving something up; we always give up dessert as a family, plus my discipline will be:  Bible before Facebook! It's so easy to mindlessly browse first thing, before my brain gets in gear, but instead of opening up Facebook, I'm going to open up my BCP (Book of Common Prayer) app and listen to the lectionary readings while I'm making coffee. (Priorities!) I want to start my day by trusting, dwelling, delighting, waiting and all the rest. Pun intended, I guess. --All the rest that God wants to pour into me when I rest in him.


Thursday, January 29, 2015

Happy Birthdays to My Eldests

In November, Blondechick turned 22 on the 22nd--her "golden birthday." We had a party with all "gold" foods (yellow and orange) and also had a quiz on her favorite things ("Things Blondechick Thinks Are Golden").

And a week ago, our oldest turned 24! His only requests were pecan pie instead of birthday cake, and he wanted the whole family to watch "How to Train Your Dragon 2" with him. He also asked his dad to take him and B15 to Buffalo Wild Wings for dinner. It's the simple things!

In honor of their missed birthdays--a quick update. 

Blondechick has been working at a law firm since September, training to become a paralegal--and she absolutely loves it! Such an answer to prayer. She has been living alone, essentially, on the second floor of a friends' home, but she is about to move into a house with 4 other girls from her church--another answer to prayer! These girls not only cook and eat meals together, they pray and worship together too, so she is excited for that kind of fellowship! She remains involved with the church she began attending last year, when she was enrolled in its School of Worship. She continues to have her ups and downs, but she keeps clinging to Jesus through it all--praise God! We are thankful for how God faithfully keeps working in her life.

Bantam24 still lives at home and still works at a dollar store, usually just one day a week, where he stocks shelves from 5 AM to 10 AM. He may not be their most productive employee, but he is reliable! He sets his alarm for 3:30 AM and has never overslept. Instead of paying us rent, he contributes service at home. It is wonderful to have his help running kids around, picking up groceries, vacuuming, putting out the trash weekly and staying on top of the daily dishes. He runs daily on the treadmill and is at his lowest weight in years. He spends a lot of time gaming and editing/contributing graphic images for Halopedia and Destinypedia. He has many online friends that he games with, and he even began witnessing to one, a depressed veteran of Iraq.

We have recently applied for Social Security Income for him, since it doesn't seem like he's going to be very capable of supporting himself if something were to happen to both of us. We had a lot of testing done and it clearly supports our case. It was sad and sobering to read the report. Yet it made me so very grateful to God that B24 lives a life that is much richer than his diagnosis and abilities would indicate. He enjoys his family, and we enjoy him and his quirks so much. Even though he gets argumentative sometimes about helping, he feels needed and appreciated. (He has told others that his family really needs him--and it's the truth!) God knew what He was doing when he gave us B24 first!

The transition from having dependent children to having young adults hasn't been really smooth with these two (and we still need prayer, if you are so inclined). But God has been so faithful to walk with them and with us through these seasons.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Fifty Things I'm Thankful For At Fifty

1. Birthdays. As annoying as it is to be reminded each year that one is getting older, there is a certain accomplishment in completing another year, is there not? Birthdays always cause me to reflect on the previous year and dream about the year to come. Probably because my birthday is so close to New Year's Day!

2. Truisms. "An obvious truth," such as "Older but wiser." I like truisms because sometimes it's reassuring to state the obvious. 

3. Wisdom. Time does have a way of teaching you things you can't learn without living them.

4. Truth. Last night a group of my friends spoke many affirming words to me about who I am. Many of them confirmed and repeated the same ideas, so that I had to believe it was truth. Mercifully it was not the whole truth--the same group could all have agreed on my many weaknesses--but it was wonderful that they were able to identify and water the flowers in my heart's garden. I tend to be more aware of the weeds!

5. Prayer. This group of friends also laid hands on me and prayed for me. What a gift!

6. Powerful images from the Lord. One friend gave me a beautiful picture of what God is doing in my life. He said the Lord showed him a garden that had been cultivated with many perennials, bushes and plants that take time to come to maturity. When they do, it's because of all the labor and effort that was put in during those early years when it seemed like not much was happening. In maturity, the garden is a place of rest and enjoyment.

7. Intercession. Two friends had the same prayer for me--that the petitions I had prayed in secret, the desires the Lord had yet to grant, would soon be fulfilled. Yes, Lord Jesus come!

8. Friends. We've lived in Kenosha for nearly 7 years now. I thought that the fellowship we had at our previous church and neighborhood of 16 years could never be replaced, but God has given me friends beyond what I could have asked or imagined when we first moved here!

9. Papa Rooster. I could probably finish out the remaining list with all the things I am thankful for in my husband, but let's just go with how he understands me and desires to bless and care for me. He organized and facilitated the gathering last night, and he daily speaks words of love and blessing to me. He is such a great father to our children, and pastor to our congregation. I am so blessed that he is stuck with me!

10. My children. Three of them "rose up and called me blessed," at the party last night (to quote Proverbs 31). Teenagers and those not long out of their teens are not known for being particularly appreciative of parental advice and wisdom, but my children depart from that stereotype on a pretty regular basis. I am always so blessed when they do.

11. Brevity. If I am going to get through this list, I am going to need it!

12. Heat. In these frigid temps, I am so grateful that our old house is relatively snug and draft-free, and our ancient boiler is having no problem pumping out the heat!

13. Reliable cars. They start, they run, even in negative temps. I don't take this for granted!

14. Days off of school. (I would say "snow days," but what do we call them--"windchill days"?) We had three in a row and it was fun to have B9 and B15 around.

15. Audiobooks. 

16. The stories of P.G. Wodehouse. Guaranteed to amuse and lift the spirits!

17. ALEKS online math program. 

18. The Harry Potter series. Chicklet12 is engrossed, and I love letting her read all day and calling it school! As long as she also completes her hour+ of ALEKS math.

19. Middle school choir. Chicklet is going to join the public school's 6th grade choir for the rest of the year. The choir director is fabulous, and she doesn't even care if Chicklet misses every Tuesday because of our classical co-op.

20. B15's high school choral experience. Between Madrigals, Jazz Choir and Chorale, he's learned so much and had a blast. 

21. B15's surprise solo yesterday. The Chorale had been selected months ago to sing for a choral director's conference in Appleton, WI, a 2.5 hour drive away, and the school allowed them to go even though school was cancelled. (The Fine Arts administrator made it happen, arguing that it would be like not allowing a sports team to attend a championship game!) It was a singular honor, as they were performing as an example for all the other choir directors at the conference. On the morning of, B15 was told he had been selected to sing the baritone solo in one of their numbers. He was thrilled!

22. Our trip to CA for my cousin's wedding. So happy for him and his new wife! So wonderful to visit my aunt and uncle again too. The visit was too short!

23. My brothers and sisters-in-law. Not just relatives, but friends!

24. My parents, and my father-in-law. Thankful for their good health, their love and support, and their wisdom.

25. That my children are all walking with the Lord. I may worry about circumstances in their life, but I can cling to this truth!

26. This blog. New Year's was my "blogiversary"--nine years since I started keeping this chronicle of family events and  my random observations. It's given me an outlet for writing and helped me hone my style. Thank you, all you who faithfully or occasionally read!

27. Our treadmill. It's served our family well for years. (May it last for many more!) I've recently started walking on it, about 2.5 miles a day in about 43 minutes, which is how long it takes to watch one episode of Once Upon a Time, Season 1. 

28. Netflix. It sure does help me look forward to exercising!

29. Panera. Where I am now, getting some "me time" while my kids are at...

30. Spotlight Youth Theater. So grateful for the experiences and opportunities this company has given my kids, and me. How would I ever have discovered what fun it is to teach and direct drama classes and shows? 

31. That Area Coordinator and friend who first hired me as a teacher, who thought I would be good at iit, even when I argued that I didn't have any drama experience. Thanks to her, and...

32. That director who first invited me to be on a directing team...I now have...

33. Experience! With every new class or cast I direct, I gain a little more. I'm really enjoying the Drama 1 class I'm teaching right now, and the ten-minute scene from The Phantom Tollbooth we are working on for Showcase.

34. The opportunity to use my teaching gifts at Spotlight and at our classical co-op. I really do enjoy teaching in a class setting. 

35. The other families at our co-op who go out of their way to accommodate me and Chicklet12. Our co-op is a blessing!

35. The friend who takes my daughter to CC, allowing me to come later.

36. Homeschooling. This may be my last year for awhile. It may be--still discerning this--but it may be that the Lord has other things for me to do next year. Homeschooling has been such a wonderful option for our kids, and I am grateful for all the years God has given me the grace and the opportunity to do it.

37. Educational options. We have so many choices in this area, although some (charter schools) are only available by lottery. If Chicklet were to go to school next year, I'm not yet sure where it would be.

38. The local elementary school, where B9 is thriving.

39. The high school, a rough place where B15 has found good friends and inspiring teachers. Such a gift!

40. Our church. Lots of good things happening there.

41. Our annual meeting and celebration (coming up in 2 weeks) of all that God is doing among us! I will have more to say after that. ;)

42. Visitors and newcomers. In recent months, we've added a new family that's plugging in and had other visitors who keep coming back. Every person seems sent from God. We need them; they need us!

43.  All that B19 is learning at the School of Worship. What a good experience he's having this year!

44. Blondechick22's job. She's working at a law office and basically being trained as a paralegal. She loves the job itself and the women she works with. What provision!

45. B23's job. Even though it's only 5-10 hours a week, it's enough that he can pay his student loan and give us something toward his phone/car insurance/medical expenses. In lieu of rent he gives us service hours.

46. All the ways B23 helps out--chauffeuring his brothers and sister, grocery shopping, remembering to put the trash out on Tuesday nights, and staying on top of the dishes.

47. Chicklet12 and B9's relationship. They are best friends! Neither of them has made one complaint about having to share a room since we moved in.

48. Our house. Even without the third floor being finished, we are comfortable. Even though I see projects all over (painting, wallpaper removal, windows to wash, splintered and cracked paint to remove or re-do, yardwork), the house is perfectly livable without doing any of them. For which I am grateful--though I chafe to get at them!

49. Our house as a ministry center. We have several groups meeting here weekly for prayer, Bible study and administration, along with other regular but less frequent meetings. Our old house couldn't accommodate these meetings at all--not only was it not centrally located, but the layout didn't give our family anywhere to go if a meeting was taking place in the living room. Here, doors can be closed which give privacy to those meeting, and allows our family to go about our normal routines without interrupting anything.

50. All good things. "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change." God is good, all the time!

Thursday, January 01, 2015

Annotated List of Books I Read in 2014

With routine blown to bits with our move, my book list is shorter than usual. Still a respectable list, considering--thank God for audiobooks!--but I have to point out that a lot of these are...pretty short. :)

Let's start with the children's books, shall we? 

Paddle to the Sea (Holling C. Holling)
Ah, padding my list already, I see. This was one from 2013 that I forgot about till after I published last year's list. If you live near one of the Great Lakes, you MUST find this beautifully illustrated book about a little carved wooden Indian boy in a canoe who travels from Lake Superior through each of the Great Lakes and finally out to the Atlantic Ocean. It takes a year or more, so you travel through the seasons as well as the geography of the region.

The Queen's Smuggler; The Bandit of Ashley Downs (Dave and Neta Jackson)
The Trailblazer series is a fictional series describing the feats of famous Christians as they might have interacted with children of their time period. For example, The Bandit of Ashley Downs is about George Muller, told from the perspective of one of the orphans who came to live in his orphanage, who saw firsthand how God provided meals and furnaces for the orphan houses, (based on actual accounts). The Queen's Smuggler tells how a young girl smuggled a copy of William Tyndale's New Testament into the hands of Anne Boleyn, hoping it will enable her to persuade King Henry VIII to release Tyndale from prison. My kids really enjoy these, especially since each chapter ends with a cliffhanger!

Little Town on the Prairie; These Happy Golden Years (Laura Ingalls Wilder)
Still slowly making our way through this series. So wonderful. If you never read these as a child, treat yourself and read them now!

Pollyanna (Eleanor H. Porter)
This is one of those books I might never have read, but at a garage sale, I couldn't pass up a beautiful edition of it with a purple fabric cover and gilt lettering, because it was so lovely and practically free. Chicklet wanted to read it, but with its 1913 prose, it was beyond her, so it became our book to read when B9 was too tired to read another chapter of Little House. This book is due for a comeback, I think, or at least another movie remake, because it's so in step with the gratitude movement. Pollyanna continually plays "The Glad Game," in which the challenge is for one to find something to be glad about, even in difficult circumstances, and when she invites others to play the game with her, their lives are transformed! I have mostly heard of "Pollyanna" as a pejorative; the actual book paints a positive and helpful picture.

Miracle's Boys; Hush (Jacqueline Woodson)
These are YA books by a black author about black families, sensitively told and well written. I am definitely going to look for more books by this author. Miracle's Boys is about three sons, after the death of their mother, and how they handle the grief and their relationships with each other after one angry brother is released from a juvenile detention center. Hush is about a the family of a black policeman who enters the witness protection program, uprooted from family and friends, given new identities, trying to fit in in a new community. I was listening to this audiobook when everything blew up in Ferguson--apt timing. 

The Silver Chair; The Last Battle (C.S. Lewis)
Listened to these with the younger kids and B23 on road trips this year. We own the Focus on the Family Radio Drama versions, which are wonderful! The Chronicles of Narnia is another series that adults should treat themselves to. Even if you didn't miss out as a child, re-read them as an adult!

On to the grown-up books....

Of Mice and Men; East of Eden; The Grapes of Wrath (John Steinbeck)
I thought I didn't like Steinbeck. Based on what? --One reading, when I was way too young--4th grade, I think?--of "The Red Pony" (which was horrible, if you were expecting a nice horse story). Oh, and I think I was made to watch a black-and-white movie version of Of Mice and Men at some point. Also very disturbing. 

But now, I am in love with Steinbeck. Wow. What a writer! It probably helps that I have listened to these as audiobooks; the readers doing the dialects accurately adds so much. (Gary Sinise reading Of Mice and Men is an incredible performance.) Although the plots are not feel-good stories, they are so deeply satisfying as life, life with all its messiness and mistakes, but still with a vibrancy that cannot be quenched while there is life. It's hard to say which is my favorite, but East of Eden was the most theologically and spiritually provoking. All these stories were so engaging, I'd make up reasons to stay in the kitchen to keep listening.

Saint Joan (George Bernard Shaw)
My library had a nice edition of this play performed as an audiobook. Theologically thought-provoking, as various characters of the institutional church represent different modes of thought, and Shaw does such a masterful job of making each character full of personality--and entertaining!

Green Dolphin Street (Elizabeth Goudge)
I thought I had read this before, back when Papa Rooster and I were collecting books by this author and reading them all avidly, but I think I must only have seen the old movie. The book, of course, is better! This is one of this fine writer's best books, about two very different sisters who love the same man. He is banished to Australia, and writes for his love to join him--but accidentally asks for the wrong sister! This is the story of a difficult marriage and of a love lost and found in God (the real love becomes a nun), which spans a lifetime, as the two sisters are reunited again in their last decade of life. It takes place partly in a harborside town on a windswept, sunny island, and partly in Australia, where the white culture encroaches on the Maori way of life, with resulting unrest and violence.

They Do It With Mirrors; At Bertram's Hotel; Black Coffee (Agatha Christie)
I love Agatha Christie. Consistently good writing and intriguing plots, and the audiobooks are always read by British readers, which is always a delight to the ear. Chicklet12 has started listening to Hercule Poirot audiobooks, because she thinks he's so funny! If you're interested in getting kids started on the Dame, Black Coffee is uniquely accessible, I think. It was originally written as a stage play, so the action is quite direct and it's shorter than most of her books. It's also your archetypal poison plot. :)

The Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon (Alexander McCall Smith)
Another in the series that began with The Number One Ladies' Detective Agency. I love visiting Botswana occasionally through these gentle, lighthearted mysteries.

The Alto Wore Tweed, The Baritone Wore Chiffon, The Soprano Wore Falsettos, The Bass Wore Scales, The Treble Wore Trouble (Mark Schweizer)
These were my find of the year! Okay, my friend's find of the year. These "liturgical mysteries" are about the choir director and organist of an Episcopal church, who is also the chief detective of the 3-person police force of this small Carolina town. He also writes really bad noir mysteries in Sam Spade style, with metaphors and similes as convoluted as an octopus's arms wrapped around a squid's tentacles, just as slimy and twice as twisted, qualified with qualifiers as endless as the sea they both reside in. (Ha! Not bad for my first-ever attempt to imitate.) He writes the bad mysteries in installments, which he inserts in the choir's folders so they'll have reading material during the sermon; they are sprinkled throughout each novel for the reader's entertainment as well.

The actual mysteries aren't as intriguing as the antics of a series of priests who serve at the church, which has always been quite traditional until the rector who wants a clown mass, the one who brings in a Feng Shui consultant to rearrange the altar and other furniture and pronounce that the traditional liturgical colors are all wrong, and the one who brings with him a Hungarian dwarf to serve as verger. The request for a clown mass causes the Episcopal church in a neighboring town to request a pirate mass, which is far more successful--and humorous! ("An' on the night 'e was handed over to sufferin' and Davy Jones' locker, 'e took bread, and when 'e had beat the weevils out 'o it...") The cast of colorful characters includes Benny Dawkins, who is a world-class thurifer, with thurible-swinging signature moves like the Tallulah Bankhead, the Big Ben, the Cross Your Heart, and the very difficult Walk the Dog. You don't want to sit on the aisle if you get on his bad side, or you might find yourself knocked out cold with a Double-Inverted Reverse Swan.

In case you're from a non-censing (non-smoking) church, here's a visual:


You can see how seriously thurifers take their job!


Finally, the few, the proud, the non-fiction....

The Grace and Truth Paradox: Responding With Christlike Balance (Randy Alcorn)
Another book I actually read in 2013, I think. I rarely finish non-fiction, it seems, but this one was short and so engaging. My experience with Christianity has been heavy on delivering truth to people, but how to also extend grace? This book was fabulous on how to reach out with both, and why one without the other is deadly to unbelievers and believers alike. Lots of great anecdotes probably helped me get through it.

Lives on the Boundary:  A Moving Account of the Struggles and Achievements of America's Educationally Underprepared (Mike Rose)
Why? Why out of all the great non-fiction books I have started, would I actually finish a book with a title like this? Well, it helps that I brought it along on the plane to CA, but I did have other reading material. Simply put, I couldn't put it down. The author is now an expert in education, but he came from quite the impoverished background, and barely made it into college, let alone through it. He knows about being educationally underprepared, and he works with college freshman and adult remedial learners, so he had tons of stories woven throughout this account of his own educational experience and what he's learned since. He especially critiqued how we often teach and judge writing, emphasizing grammar, punctuation and sentence structure over expression at the remedial level. He gave varied and poignant evidence that standardized tests don't really assess what students know, especially disadvantaged students. He also examined the huge leap that students have to make between high school and college, and it was interesting to hear how he tutors incoming freshman to think and write, especially students that had little opportunity in high school, forced into remedial classrooms because of language and other barriers. As a parent with 4 kids yet to begin college, I was so intrigued and inspired.

And that concludes this year's list! If you'd like to see other year-end lists, visit Semicolon's round-up of reviews!

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

December News

My dear California uncle tells me that I must get something new up on my blog so that he doesn't have to keep looking at those candles! My apologies to any other readers who are similarly tired of waiting for a new post here. I have to admit, Advent is gone and the waiting should be over!

It's not really that I've been a slacker. It's been December!

Of course we had Christmas and related activities. Although I tried to keep spending to a bare minimum, I didn't want to deprive our kids and relatives of gifts altogether. I actually had a good time shopping sales and using $10 off coupons at Penney's and Gordman's, 30% off at Kohl's (racking up Kohl's cash too) and using points from our credit card on Amazon. Since I was out--normally, I just don't shop, or shop mainly at Goodwill or St. Vincent's for myself--I scoured every clearance rack for a few things to update my own wardrobe too. Time to retire the t-shirts and hoodies, I think. With a few inexpensive sweaters, I'm now able to wear boots (instead of gym shoes--more practical in the winter) and scarves (gifts I've been unable to wear) with my skinny jeans (score! 2 new pairs at Goodwill).

Not that anyone cares much? But it took a lot of time. And now I should be set for a few more winters! 

For the first three weeks of December, I also continued teaching and lesson-planning for the grammar and writing classes I teach at a classical homeschool co-op, and for the Drama 1 class I'm pulling together my own curriculum for. These last two weeks, it's been nice to be on vacation from teaching!

What else? We attended a Christmas choir concert and a Madrigals feast that I still want to write a post about. I am so amazed and impressed with the quality of the choir experience B15 is having at the public high school.

We had a lovely Christmas Eve service at Light of Christ. B15, Chicklet12 and I were all in the a cappella choir, so we also had a rehearsal the day before. Christmas Eve afternoon was spent cooking a meal with our friends--the ones that we lived with in between houses, earlier this summer--because after the 5:00 service, we had 33 people over for dinner! The plan kind of mushroomed beyond the initial thought, but they totally took it in stride, and we were able to include a number of folks who had traveled and were otherwise without a place to go.

On Christmas Day, we opened gifts and had brunch at home--our first Christmas in our new house--and then traveled into Chicago to spend the rest of the day with Papa Rooster's father, brother, his wife, and our niece. It's such a blessing to have family close enough to do holidays with. Wonderful memories for us all!

We had one day after Christmas to get ready to leave for my cousin's wedding in Southern California! No kids, just us. The two youngest stayed with their aunt and uncle for the first few nights, and then went to other homes they'd been invited to. The 15 and older crowd fended for themselves, and thankfully are completely trustworthy. They made plans with friends and enjoyed the downtime. It was especially nice since they're on vacation from school and regular lessons and classes.

We had a fabulous time at the wedding, particularly because my two brothers and their wives were there without kids either, and we all realized it was the first time this had ever happened! The six of us had so much fun. Without kids interrupting or meals to prepare and clean up after, we could just enjoy being together at the rehearsal dinner, the reception, breakfast, and more.

The wedding was one of those long-awaited affairs; my cousin is 45, an only child and never married. But his lovely bride was worth the wait! And what a small world it is. We discovered so many connections with her family--she used to work with Papa Rooster's cousin; her sister is friends with my cousin's wife; her twin brother lives in the same area where we lived in IL and we know many of the same people. Such a delightful family. It was a special day and a wonderful trip!

Too short, of course. But it's good to be back and have a few days of vacation left to enjoy. Hoping to not do much except write another blog post. 

Watch this space for my year-end review of the books I read this year! I promise it won't be another month. :)

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Come, Lord Jesus

Another Advent is here! I love this season, full of mystery, longing, hope and anticipation.



"Come, Lord Jesus!" is the cry of Advent. And there are so many ways I need Jesus to come. So many lives He needs to break into...so many situations that cry out for divine intervention. Having done what I can think of to do, having prayed the prayers I can think of to pray, often the only thing left to do is cry, "Come, Lord Jesus!"

And not only in the lives of others--I need the Lord to come into my life. Distractions cloud my vision, my prayers, my priorities. Advent is a season that reminds me to wake--not slumber--to watch, in the darkness, for the light. I invite God to come again into my life, to re-orient my perspective. "Come, Lord Jesus," my heart cries. "Come into every area of my heart--every darkened corner, every slumbering resolution, every helpless hope, probe every tender spot. I give you access, Lord; come." 

The Advent parable of the ten virgins always speaks to me--the five who weren't prepared and wanted to borrow oil from the five who had brought extra. May the Lord find me not trying to borrow from someone else's faith or experience, but actively engaged in listening to Him and serving Him in the unique ways He's called me. In this parable, there is also the image of waking from slumber and going in to the marriage feast--the promise of joy, the anticipation of fulfillment of all things. Yet there is mystery in this parable. We slumber in the night, as we wait, our lamps burning in expectation of that hour.

The December days may be busy, but the nights--longer and longer as we creep toward Christmas--remind me to pray for the light to break into the darkness. Come, Light of Christ.

But Advent is not all longing and expectation. Even as we pray for his coming into our lives and the lives of those we love, even as we anticipate his coming at the end of all things, when every knee will bow and every tongue confess, we rejoice in the Good News:  He came! Advent brings us daily closer to Christmas and the celebration of his first coming. It's a down payment, if you will, that He will make good on his promises.

There is a longing, in Advent, for what we haven't got...for what we need, in Christ. But we can long with anticipation of our hopes being fulfilled, because there has been fulfillment. When we didn't even know our need, Christ came. While we were yet sinners, He died. While we wait in darkness and unknowing, He knows. He is Lord...He will come.